As summer rolls in for pretty much the entire nation, I’ve had more than enough time to reflect on my first two semesters of college.
And while I had a lot of expectations of what I would experience upon arrival to my dorm, there were some things I didn’t realize until now. Here’s a list of a few lessons I learned as I worked my way through my first year of college.
1. Use Your Free Time Wisely
College is quite a dramatic shift from high school. Gone are the days of regimented, orderly class schedules where each course is taught for the same amount of time. This past year, I had classes in both the morning and at night, ranging from only fifty minutes to nearly three hours in length. But, in between those courses, you’ll find yourself with a lot of free time. Perhaps even too much free time, dare I say.
Before you choose to open your laptop and binge-watch the latest Netflix Original Series (which is something I fell victim to quite often), you might want to be proactive and get started on any upcoming readings or assignments. Yes, this seems like a rather obvious statement, but it can’t be reiterated enough. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of relief that I would feel every time I submitted a paper or a quiz before its due date.
Getting work done early allows you to get assignments out of the way, and then you can enjoy your endless streaming of “Stranger Things” without the ominous feeling of procrastination looming over you.
2. Take Advantage of Free Events
Remember those huge student fees you had to pay at the beginning of the year? Well, they go toward all those goodies and events that your school’s Student Union puts on. If you are like me, in the sense that you like to snag the latest t-shirt (and end up wearing it as some sort of fabric trophy), then you’re really going to want to take advantage of your school’s events. From study sessions to campus-wide philanthropy, there’s probably a t-shirt, hat or other covetable item being given away.
Also, on a more serious note, take advantage of your school’s services. Your school fees typically cover anything from counseling and career services to the fitness classes at your school’s gym. Also, you get a ton of emails regarding countless workshops on resume-building and networking opportunities, and you can learn so much from those kind of events. Plus, they typically have free swag up for grabs as well, so you benefit in more ways than one.
3. Always Go to Office Hours
Yes, your professors are intimidating, but, it’s critical that you visit them outside of class. I’ll admit this isn’t an opportunity that I took maximum advantage of, but whenever I did, it was a rewarding experience.
Getting exclusive time to speak relatively candidly with your instructor allows for the professor to get to know you better, which comes in handy when you need a future recommendation letter and the like.
4. Join Student Organizations and Network
Yes, it may sound cliché to tell readers to “get involved,” but it’s true. Attend meetings for different student organizations on campus that are related to issues and causes that you are interested in. Most college campuses have extensive amounts of registered student organizations, sometimes even hundreds of them!
Once you start getting into the grind of attending meetings and club events, you’ll find yourself creating new relationships with people who have similar interests and career goals. This is critical for networking opportunities, as well. As for me, I was able to network with several local businesses, professors and students during certain club events. Clubs are invaluable ways to create connections and get involved in events that pertain to the things you love.
5. Balance Your New-Found Independence
I have had many upperclassman tell me that you gain a lot of independence once you enter college, but I didn’t fully grasp the extent of this independence until I was actually sitting alone in my dorm room. You don’t have to ask anyone permission to go anywhere or to buy anything; you can just do it. However, as enticing as this newfangled freedom may sound, it’s a double-edged sword.
Budgeting, laundry, cooking, actually waking up on time for your class? Those are just a few of the things that you have to get yourself acquainted with. Oh, and don’t forget the seasonal sicknesses that are rather virulent on college campuses. I learned the hard way that my on-campus Chick-Fil-A doesn’t serve chicken soup on Saturdays, so I had to manage with a bowl of ramen and DayQuil to try to clear my sinuses up on my own. In the end, there’s a reality check that comes along with living on your own, and as messy as it can be at times, it’s worthwhile.
6. Keep in Touch
I learned that however easy it may be, you shouldn’t drop off the face of the earth when it comes to communicating with your family. Sure, I’d like to see myself as a full-fledged, brazenly autonomous college student living on my own, but I found that I still need the support of my family and friends from back home. Even if it’s a weekly phone call or a text here and there, keeping in contact with your loved ones helps boost your morale during tough times (a.k.a. finals week.)
And while I’m on the subject of being social, I learned that it’s crucial to build a community around yourself while away at school. Even if you’re a commuting student, surrounding yourself with people to lift you up makes all the difference in your college experience. It has for mine so far. This past year, I got involved with the Catholic Campus Ministry at my school, and I’ve made countless friendships, working with them on different philanthropic projects and fostering new relationships that I’m pretty sure will last a lifetime.
7. Don’t Overwhelm Yourself
As a freshman, most everything about college is shiny and new, and you’ll be tempted to want to do everything that comes your way, but don’t get overwhelmed. Take time to familiarize yourself with your campus and the local area.
When you can, explore your college town and experience this new world around you. Simply put, take a deep breath, take your time and take it all in. This time in your life is pretty special, so enjoy it